- On Stable Value
- Comparing Stable Value Funds and Insurance Company Products
- Plan sponsors may want to consider some key structural features.
- 2021-05-24 13:47
Stable value strategies can be accessed through various investment vehicles offered both by insurance companies and by asset managers. The most common structures are insurance company general and separate accounts and portfolios managed by asset managers, which can include both separate accounts and common trust, or pooled, funds.
We believe plan sponsors and their consultants or financial professionals should consider a number of key structural features when evaluating stable value products. These include:
- Asset ownership,
- Contractual terms,
- Exit provisions,1
- Investment guidelines,
- Fees and crediting rate2 disclosures,
- Management of the portfolios underlying the principal guarantee, and
- Diversification of the principal guarantee.
Regardless of the investment vehicle, investors also need to assess not only the creditworthiness and/or capabilities of the insurance company or asset manager, but also some key structural differences between pooled funds and insurance company general accounts.
As we compare stable value products and structures, we quickly observe distinct differences in a few critical categories—such as crediting rates and portfolio durations3—that are the direct result of differing product structures. The average credit quality of insurance general accounts may also be lower compared with investment manager pooled funds as a result of structural differences.
Characteristics of Stable Value Vehicles
(Fig. 1) Pooled funds and general accounts have key differences
As of December 31, 2020.
Source: Stable Value Investment Association. Based on survey data of stable value assets from participating firms.
Features and characteristics of specific products and issuers may differ significantly.
As highlighted in survey data from the Stable Value Investment Association (SVIA), insurance products tended to have longer durations and correspondingly higher yields, while pooled funds tended to have shorter durations and slightly lower yields. (Duration is a measure of a bond’s or bond portfolio’s sensitivity to interest rate changes.)
Structural Characteristics of Stable Value Vehicles
(Fig. 2) Insurer and asset manager offerings may differ notably
Source: T. Rowe Price.
There are additional differences between these products. Please refer to a product’s offering document to carefully review a specific product’s features, costs and risks. Some of the additional features of both products include offering daily liquidity for plan participants and capital preservation. Some differences are that a general account product is backed by the full faith and credit of the insurance company while investment managed pooled funds typically use several wrap providers (who “wrap” designated associated assets within a stable value investment option to provide book value protection for plan participants). General account products offer a guaranteed fixed rate of return while investment managed pooled funds offer a rate of return based on the performance of the underlying fixed income assets. Duration can vary for each product.
Given that all pooled funds and insurance company general accounts are capital preservation products that provide participants with daily liquidity, there does appear to be some trade-off between interest rate risk (i.e., duration) and plan exit provisions. Insurance products, given their longer durations, typically include a variety of exit provisions that seek to offset some of the interest rate risk borne by the insurance company. Pooled funds also have plan exit provisions (put options) that typically are 12 months or greater and are commensurate with their shorter duration.
As with any investment, it is important that plan sponsors, consultants, and financial professionals understand their investments and are comfortable with the terms and conditions of the investment vehicle and structure. When considering stable value investment options and evaluating structures, we suggest investors develop a checklist of key questions.
Key Considerations Checklist
(Fig. 3) Issues to evaluate when selecting stable value vehicles
Source: T. Rowe Price.
A simple checklist will allow defined contribution plan sponsors and their consultants or financial professionals to compare stable value products with distinct structures on a common basis. T. Rowe Price and the SVIA both offer a wealth of resources to help plan sponsors and their consultants or financial professionals equip plan participants with the tools they need to construct an informed investment strategy.
1 Plans invested in a stable value product usually have to wait a specific period of time before exiting the product at the plan level.
2 The interest rate applied to the book value of a stable value investment contract, typically expressed as an effective annual yield.
3 Duration measures a bond’s or bond portfolio’s sensitivity to interest rate changes.
This material is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be investment advice or a recommendation to take any particular investment action.
The views contained herein are those of the authors as of May 2021 and are subject to change without notice; these views may differ from those of other T. Rowe Price associates.
Guarantees subject to the claims paying ability of the insurer. Diversification cannot assure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market.
Money market and stable value funds have different risks. It is important that you carefully review the legal documents for each type of vehicle prior to investment to determine if it is appropriate for you.
This information is not intended to reflect a current or past recommendation concerning investments, investment strategies, or account types, advice of any kind, or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any securities or investment services. The opinions and commentary provided do not take into account the investment objectives or financial situation of any particular investor or class of investor. Please consider your own circumstances before making an investment decision.
Information contained herein is based upon sources we consider to be reliable; we do not, however, guarantee its accuracy.
Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. All investments are subject to market risk, including the possible loss of principal. All charts and tables are shown for illustrative purposes only.
T. Rowe Price Investment Services, Inc.
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